It’s time to appreciate the complexity of equity, access, and innovation at the heart of education.

There is no topic in American culture that is so mainstream yet so overlooked as the challenges of teachers to bring high-quality education to their students across America.

Mainstream, because it is a critical, impassioned issue arguably more important than any other — just ask any parent. Overlooked, because it is so easy for anybody who is one step removed from that world to ignore or forget its challenges. That includes most of the general population without children who do not work directly in education or public policy.

In conversations of leadership, too, it is easy to overlook teachers. There is focus on change-makers and titans of industry; politicians and celebrities; entrepreneurs and savants. But we seldom stop to appreciate the leadership of teachers in the midst of great challenge and adversity. Beyond fractions and long division, beyond earth science and poetry, our schools shape the way children develop, problem-solve, and fundamentally think.

And it’s all thanks to teachers.

For Teacher Appreciation Week this year, we stop to consider two core challenges facing teachers, and we celebrate their spirited determination and ingenuity in overcoming them. They are equity & access, and the increasingly complex evolution of the modern classroom.

Equity & Access

Equity — or equality — is a fundamental issue at the heart of public education reform. In simple terms, it asks the question: how do we ensure every child receives the best education with fair opportunity to share equal success as their peers?

This challenge goes deeper than an educator’s pedagogy, curriculum, and the debates surrounding standardized testing. It ripples into the social fabric of a child’s life, including their well-being at home, socioeconomic realities, and individual aspirations. Reduced to a single sentence, each of these mammoth issues is a sound bite, but each of them alone in the day-to-day life of a child has monumental impact.

As these issues play out on the public stage — and as we continue to build data sets that inform the relationship between each factor and the success of students — teachers are increasingly forced to step into larger roles beyond classroom instructor: social worker, coach, mentor, and in some cases surrogate parent. When you bundle these roles across classrooms of 30+ students, we distill a single overarching title: Leader.

And in exemplary models of leadership, teachers are taking on equity and access issues in innovative ways. One solution is finding continual ways to involve parents or guardians in the education process — in ways far more integrated than traditional, semi-annual parent teacher conferences. Studies show that increased support from parents, just by keeping them in the loop, has a dramatic, holistic lift on students’ experiences and success, with 20% increase in participation, decrease in absences, higher grades and test scores, and more. It also eases the burden on teachers.

 

Evolving Classroom Complexities

Rapid innovation in the private sector has cast light on the origins of public education, with specific emphasis on the classroom environment. Neat, orderly rows of desks with a singular instructor at the front of the room lecturing — this iconic classroom stereotype has been lambasted as a relic of an assembly-line, production-driven era. Classrooms have rapidly evolved to break the molds and rows. More teachers work to create collaborative environments for students to work together in small groups, and creatively expand curricula in cross-disciplinary ways.

Within the evolving landscape of the modern classroom, the conversation is at once accelerated and derailed through transformative technologies. On the one hand, cell phones and other devices have become a distraction and an obstacle for teachers to overcome. But when technology is integrated effectively, it is transformative.

First, it empowers a shift in learning models, allowing lessons to come to life in multimedia. Gone is the era of the bulky textbooks, now digitized and supplemented with videos, interactive modules, and more. Hands-on learning with robotics, 3D printers, and emerging technologies expose children at young ages to skills like coding and higher-level cognitive problem solving that becomes intuitive.

Why it Matters

These evolving technologies create boundless opportunities for education to come to life, even as the classroom becomes more complex. And while the long-standing issues of equity & access become more prominent than ever with this added layer, many teachers are turning to technological solutions to bridge that gap as well.

“I want every child in my classroom to succeed and that means meeting parents where they are at,” says Danielle Fugazzi, elementary school teacher in Chicago. “The reality however, is that it is virtually impossible to do because of the conflicting expectations and preferences parents have unless you find a solution to help. Everything changed for me and my class since I started using ClassTag app to help me involve parents.”

ClassTag is an innovative, leading example of how technology can support teachers’ classroom leadership by facilitating smooth communications between a single teacher and a community of parents and caregivers. From a single message input by the teacher, the app can translate into multiple languages and disseminate across multiple channels — SMS, email, and social media — per a parent’s preferred method of receiving information. Furthermore, the app has a unique rewards program with partners like Nat Geo, Under Armour, and HP to give back to teachers, who often reach into their own pockets for basic classroom supplies and the materials they need to lead effectively.

How you can show your appreciation right now

Just in time for Teacher’s Appreciation Week, ClassTag is launching a giveaway to celebrate and recognize 1,000 teachers across America who face these types of challenges in education but continually “Make it Happen.” Like good leaders do, the best teachers continually innovate and overcome obstacles; you can follow the campaign online via their hashtag #MakeItHappenMoments and even nominate outstanding teachers in your schools and community who truly showing us what it means to be Real Leaders, every day.